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The Problem With Rebooting Very Recent TV Shows

Last week, fresh off the announcement that Octavia Spencer would be starring in a reboot of Murder, She Wrote, the story broke that CBS is working on a “reimagining” of one of The WB’s most popular shows, and certainly its most popular show about witches: Charmed. The news was presumably leaked to whet the appetites of devoted fans, but I just rolled my eyes. I couldn’t help it. It’s not because I don’t love Charmed I do. It is precisely my love for this show that triggered my gag reflex.

Think about it. Is it really worthwhile to remake such a recent show? I can’t help feeling that it’s like rekindling your romance with an old lover: alluring in theory, but, 97% of the time, a horrible idea in practice. If the appeal is residual emotional attachment to certain characters, that doesn’t bode well for the remake’s long-term quality. I understand that television is an industry, and having a built-in audience ostensibly safeguards against low ratings. But I am also a firm believer that pandering to viewers by reviving a show that’s so fresh in our cultural memory will not lead to good television.

Honing the “spirit” of a beloved show is difficult; recapturing it is even more so. There is no magic formula for creating television that resonates, especially when trying to appease preexisting fans. The Charmed reboot risks being too slavishly referential to the original or worrying too much about which (potentially original-series) guest stars it can secure, at the expense of letting the new show develop an identity of its own. If its creators aren’t careful, they’ll end up with a wishy-washy, watered-down mess that, in another life, might have been just a middling show, rather than a severe disappointment.

I remember when ABC Family decided to make a TV adaptation of the movie 10 Things I Hate About You. While I loved the film for its ’90s teen-movie quips and sass, the television show felt flavorless, sanitized, a contrived parody of the original. It lacked a defining voice, obviously constrained by the platform and the show’s desire to pay homage to the film. I may have enjoyed watching it, on some mindless level, if I wasn’t constantly lamenting the lost feeling of the original.

From American Horror Story to Witches of East End, it’s clear that witches are the new supernatural figure du jour, and that has a lot to do with why we’re hearing about Charmed again. But I’d rather see the trend used as an excuse to make a new and different series about witches, rather than a bland reincarnation of a TV show I watched eight years ago.

And as one of the original series’ stars tweeted last week, even if it were a good idea to bring back Charmed, it’s just too soon to revisit a show that went off the air in 2006:

Rebooting Charmed isn’t the same as making new seasons of Arrested Development or a Veronica Mars movie either — while those shows’ runs are universally acknowledged to have been cut short, this one went on for eight seasons and ended with a wizarding school. While the former shows were revived by their original creators and casts, who still felt there were more stories to tell about those characters, Milano isn’t even the only Charmed star who isn’t excited about the CBS project.

Don’t get me wrong. If this Charmed reboot gets the green light, I will definitely watch it. You got me, CBS! I will watch it for the same reasons that I know I will watch the first episode of the Boy Meets World spin-off, Girl Meets World — out of commitment, curiosity, and a touch of nostalgia. But I’ll also be bringing in my own impossible standards, and a level of skepticism that is probably unfair. Sure, I’m open to the possibility of being delightfully surprised, but I’m mostly protecting myself. I don’t want to get my hopes up.

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